Monday, August 15, 2016

Methodology (Mixed Methods Comparative Cases)

In collaboration with the Center for Practice Engaged Education Research (C-PEER), I analyzed available and relevant trend data for participating schools and school districts, archival data (e.g.: school schedules and team and committee workflows), data from common teacher and leader survey developed for the project (including asking teachers about 21st century teaching methods identified from the extant literature), and extant data from the schools’ district about students’ perceptions of school and evaluation data about teachers. We focused on understanding “effective learning community” systems through the lens of STEM-foundational thinking. Effective school learning communities, both inside the classroom, among teachers, and in relationship to school leadership work together to support or hinder a STEM mindset in students, especially students of color. We collected data to help schools understand how school structures and resources (e.g.: time, curriculum/instructional programs, equity of access, procedures), climate (e.g.: trust, leadership systems. STEM culture in buildings), and personal aspects (e.g.: teachers’ efficacy, student persistence and motivation) intersect. While each of these has been the subject of research in focused, disconnected studies, our collaborative approach with C-PEER brought data from each element of the system together for a comprehensive look at the interacting factors for improving access and opportunity to STEM curricula.

For our triangulation research design we use a mixed-methods, multi-site, comparative case study, using both quantitative and qualitative processes, in order to measure STEM foundational thinking
and instructional activities at the elementary school level. In some instances, statistical conclusions were limited by small sample size, but we received a very high response rate from school teachers and leaders. Where survey data did not lend themselves to standard quantitative analysis, they could still be considered as qualitative findings. Specifically, I am answering: (a) What elementary school structures support students in STEM curricular areas? (b) Do these supports differ for sub-groups of students, i.e. students of color, students in poverty, and English language learners? (c) What are the components of elementary STEM opportunities to learn that foster interest, participation, and academic success in STEM content areas, especially for marginalized students of color? The modified cultural historical activity theory (CHAT) framework, which undergirds this study allows us as researchers to triangulate our data points and understand what STEM-oriented activities (object) and goal-directed actions lead to STEM foundational thinking. Activity systems analysis is a method that helps to capture multi-mediational processes in human activity (Engeström, 1987, 1999). For example, in researching school structures at the elementary school level that give STEM access and opportunity to students of color, we need to capture information that will inform us about teachers’ mediational processes. 

A triangulation design is the best choice of methodology in order to ascertain what practices are in place in effective learning organizations for recruiting and engaging students of color in STEM curricula. The scope of prior research focuses on separate lines of inquiry (e.g.: STEM perspectives, STEM frameworks, Critical Race Theory, Culturally Responsive Education). By using a triangulation, mixed-methods comparative case study design, we were able to modify an established framework (CHAT), collect several quantitative and qualitative data points, and analyze elementary schools for STEM foundational thinking. For example, something in the rules/policies corner conflicts with something in the students’ ability to take on the role of a collaborative peer with others in their classroom. Researchers chose participating schools in an urban public school district based on a range of academic performance. Researchers used the Colorado Department of Education (CDE) School Performance Framework (SPF) to identify elementary schools based on student achievement and student growth in the 2015-2016 academic school year (ASY).